As a new migrant caravan begins trekking through Honduras with plans to head north, the country’s government warns that parents could face prison time for traveling illegally with minors.
Parents could face one to three years of imprisonment for repeated attempts to move people younger than 21 out of the country without a valid passport, official travel documents and a visa to enter the country of destination, officials announced Monday.
The message marks the latest attempt by the Central American nation to discourage migrants from leaving. It comes months after the departure of large groups of migrants sparked the ire of US President Donald Trump, who said Honduran officials weren’t doing enough to stop migrants and threatened to cut millions of dollars in foreign aid.
Still, some migrant groups headed out hours ahead of their scheduled departure Tuesday from San Pedro Sula. They left early because they feared reprisal from authorities, several travelers told Honduran news station Televicentro.
Among the migrants on foot were mothers holding children’s hands, carrying children on their shoulders and cradling sleeping babies, the station’s video footage shows. A few adults traveling with children hid their faces from news cameras.
Children’s ‘security and protection’ cited
The government in its statement called on parents to protect children’s rights and to consider their “security and protection.” On the migrant route, children could “become victims of organized crime, networks that consist of trafficking people and organs,” said Lolis Salas, executive director of the Honduran Directorate of Childhood, Adolescents and Family.
That agency administered written warnings to the parents of 188 migrant children who have returned from trying to exit the country, Salas said in the statement. It did not mention when or from where the children returned.
Parents who have gotten warnings and are caught trying to remove minors again “will be sanctioned with imprisonment from one to three years,” the statement warns.
Children traveling with other adults must have a notarized authorization of departure, officials added.
Professional notaries in Honduras should “not to lend themselves to validating a signature of a person who is not in their actual presence,” Salas warned, noting it is “very important to avoid the commission of an offense that uses children as border shields.”
CNN’s Clara Lopez contributed to this report.